Mar 122012


Take a drunken tour of 1960s Puerto Rico through the mind of Hunter S. Thompson. Check out our review of *hiccup* The Rum Diary after the jump.

If you’re avoiding alcohol or any mention of it, you might want to avoid this film. It’s based on the novel (of the same name) by Hunter S. Thompson which was written in the 60s, but not published until 1998. It is moody, passionate, messy – and there is drinking from start to end, and every single bit in between.

Johnny Depp plays Kemp, a washed-up alcoholic journalist who moves to Puerto Rico to take up a job at the local English language newspaper. Kemp is struggling a bit with a crisis of identity, and hopes he may find himself and his career in the island paradise. He soon discovers that it isn’t quite the paradise he expected. The paper is going under, the living conditions are appalling, and there are dodgy characters left, right and centre. He doesn’t help himself by falling for Chenault (Amber Heard), the beautiful girlfriend of the questionable businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart).


What plays out is a drunken adventure where the storyline matters about as much as getting sober does. Kemp soon finds himself caught up in interesting dealings and cornered in situations he really shouldn’t be in. He needs to close the deal, save the paper, get the girl, and he needs to keep drinking the rum! He is aided (and hindered) by his roommates Sala (Michael Rispoli), and the barely understandable Moberg – played by Giovanni Ribisi – who sports another ridiculous accent.

The absolutely razor-sharp dialogue is the shining feature in this film. Every word that comes out of the mostly drunken mouths of the characters hits the spot. Whether it’s comical, hurtful, amusing, or completely absurd, the dialogue is really what makes the film. It really does feel like it comes directly from the mind of Hunter S. Thompson. Another stand-out is the fantastic music throughout the film. The sexy and energetic Caribbean music compliments both the setting and the story.


The biggest flaw in this film is the complete lack of any coherent story. At around the half-way mark it becomes clear that there really isn’t much of a story – it’s more a series of drunken adventures edited together in chronological order. The pacing is off, it’s too long, there are no stakes, and you really don’t feel much for the characters. The way to enjoy this film is to embrace its haphazardness and forget about any meaningful plot or conclusion.

Depp does a good job at acting drunk for 98% of the 120 minute running time. He is completely believable and utterly charming as the hapless Kemp. The supporting cast is fine, although the talented Aaron Eckheart does not get enough screen-time for our liking. Michael Rispoli does a great job as Depp’s roommate and colleague Sala. He is the most enduring of all the drunk characters.

Overall, The Rum Diary is an enjoyable but messy film. Go for the wit and beautiful location (but not the story), and just enjoy the ride.

The Facts

Director: Bruce Robinson
Writer(s): Bruce Robinson (screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson(novel)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 15th 2012; New Zealand: 2012 (date not set)